By Kim Coghill

Washington Editor

Myriad Genetics Inc. and Biosearch Italia S.p.A. entered a three-year collaboration to discover therapeutic compounds using naturally occurring products.

Myriad, of Salt Lake City, will select two or three drug targets each year from a multitude of illnesses, from heart disease to cancer, Bill Hockett, Myriad¿s vice president of corporate communications, told BioWorld Today.

¿Instead of synthetic molecules, nature can come up with some very diverse and interesting molecules that are represented in natural product sources,¿ Hockett said. ¿So we will screen some of our targets against their library of 50,000 or 100,000 different naturally occurring compounds that come from different sources ¿ molds, fungi, plants ¿ or a number of different sources.¿

A number of prescription drugs currently on the market were extracted from natural sources. For example, Taxol (a chemotherapeutic sold by Princeton, N.J.-based Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.) comes from the Pacific yew tree and aspirin comes from willow bark.

The deal calls for Myriad to develop the targets and high-throughput assays to screen against Biosearch¿s library.

Although financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, Hockett described it as a ¿true collaboration.¿

¿Since we are providing the targets and they are providing the library, we are not paying each other for services,¿ he said. ¿We will take anything forward jointly.¿

For Myriad, the collaboration supplements the high-throughput screenings it performs on its library of more than 200,000 small-molecular-weight compounds. ¿This is a great opportunity to enhance the screenings Myriad does internally,¿ Hockett said.

In other business, Myriad¿s subsidiary, Myriad Proteomics Inc., is on track in its $185 million collaboration to map the human proteome with Oracle Corp., of Redwood Shores, Calif., and Hitachi Ltd., of Tokyo. (See BioWorld Today, April 5, 2001.)

The company¿s other subsidiaries are Myriad Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Myriad Genetic Laboratories Inc.

Biosearch was founded in 1996 following a management buyout of the Lepetit Research Center in Gerenzano, Italy, from Hoechst Marion Rousssel.

Biosearch¿s most advanced product, ramoplanin, is in Phase III studies for prevention of bloodstream infections caused by vancomycin-resistant enterococci. Genome Therapeutics Corp., of Waltham, Mass., owns the U.S. and Canadian rights to the product.

Myriad¿s stock (NASDAQ:MYGN) closed Monday at $56.03, down $1.87.

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